Monday, 31 March 2014

Some Observations on Speech and Language in Early Years Autism

In June 1994, I wrote a piece detailing linguistic aspects of my autistic son's language at 5-6 years old, and this existed on a website which is now defunct. I am therefore putting it back in the public domain as I think it may provide at least one singular example of linguistics applied to autism, and this may be of use to other people.
While Martin's language did develop, during adolescence, for a variety of reasons, he exhibited what has been termed "selective mutism", and while on occasions he may speak, he rarely does so now. I addressed this in another piece which I may put up in the future.
The original website link has been cited in one academic article in 2010.
Some Observations on Speech and Language in Early Years Autism
In the following observations, speech refers to Martin's utterances [aged 5], while language refers to a linguistic description of that speech, and grammar to a linguistic description of the formative rules of language (1).
Using the terminology of linguistics, we will say that the grammar generates all the sentences of the language; and accordingly we do not distinguish between those sentences that have been attested and those that have not. Sentences generated by the grammar form the language and a sample of the utterances produced in normal conditions of use will be termed the corpus. Grammar so defined is descriptive rather than prescriptive.
This is not in any respect a formal treatise; it is a simple collection of observations. However, to observe clearly, it is important to be aware of how one is observing - what presuppositions, theories and tools are being used to help one's assessment. We have used a wide variety of different means of analysing Martin's speech, and have thought it may be useful to make the sources of these analytic tools clear by way of footnotes.
Much of Martin's speech consists of a peculiar form of repetition, either of complete narrative forms which he has heard (usually stories or songs) or of sentences composed of phases which he has heard
The narrative form of echolalia often consists of stories or songs, either from being read to, or from videos, some of which may last for ten minutes 2. They are repeated word for word, often with the same intonation as the original - Martin is very versatile at copying small nuances in speech. This seems to function as a form of entertainment. This could be seen as a substitute for imaginary play. One means, by which it can be built on, with songs, is the ability to join in singing and dancing/movement games (such as ring-a-roses).
The other form of echolaic utterances are generated from snippets of previously memorised speech and are mostly used for requests.
An example of the latter would be the question "Do you want a drink?" repeated back as a request for a drink, without the interrogatory tone of voice "Do you want a drink." Such phrases may be prompted by the question, or may be memorised from a previous occasion and spoken at an appropriate occasion later - in our example, when he is thirsty.
Linguistically, each phrase functions as a semiotic unit, signalling a particular requirement (3). Interestingly, this has been increasingly replaced over the last year by a primitive generative grammar (see below), but a few phrases still remain - for example "it's all right" to indicate that whatever was bothering Martin is doing so no longer. Formally, we might represent this grammar as:
[request] = element of set [phrase1, phrase2, .. phrasen)
Because of the means by which requests are made, Martin's speech shows a great deal of pronoun-reversal.
Limited representational skills
Martin has the ability to name objects, and the ability to understand that one noun can be used both for the object itself, and for a representation of the object (such as a photograph or picture). He has not the ability to form what Alan Leslie calls metarepresentations such as calling a box a boat or car, and imagining it to be so 4; there is one exception to this - a small toy rowing boat which he refers to as a "fish". Whether teaching can help him obtain such a skill is uncertain, but it cannot presume it to exist.
Ability to construct simple sentences
Over the last year, Martin has developed a very simple generative grammar which enables him to request both objects and actions 5. Although other forms exist, this is largely of the form:
e want [noun]
e want [action]
examples: e want drink, e want cuddle, e want go upstairs, e want car, e want coat on,
e want dummy, e want dummy back, e want try (some), e want tickle
Whether "e" in this context represents I or he is not known . The clarity of Martin's speech would seem to preclude a simple mispronounced "He" 6. How this form of speech developed is not known, but we have suspicions that a fellow classmate, Bradley [name redacted], who has considerably more speech, may have been using this form of speech. It is significant that more explicit pronoun reversed speech - "do you want a drink" - has been replaced by this form - "e want drink".
Another form, not so common is:
[noun - person] [action]
examples: mummy tickle, mummy do, mummy hug, mummy carry, mummy to help
There are also shorter forms:
e [descriptive adjective]
examples: e (or I'm) hungry,e (or I'm) sleepy  (this might however, be echolalia)
The MLU (mean length of utterance) would appear to be 3.0, although some sentences of 4 words have been spoken recently. This is an increase over a year ago, when the MLU was 1.0 (in naming pictures).
These forms of speech are predominately becoming the preferred form for request, and have clear advantages over the echolaic phrase-created speech in that, although still primitive, it has superior generative power.
His phrase-created speech was limited to utterances heard and was simply generated by choosing from a set of stock phrases, while this form of grammar can, in principle, generate new sentences not heard before.
Further observation is required before we can determine the extent of the element of novelty in his speech, as we have not been keeping sufficiently accurate records to determine this; however, our hunch is that he has spoken at least several new sentences.
A recent report on Martin by Julia Hare described his speech as being largely phrases composed of "chunks of language"; We find this description somewhat vague, as it does not differentiate between (a) the older phrase-created grammar (b) the simple generative grammar 6a. The importance of the latter is both that a genuine sentence (although primitive) is being generated, and that the generative abilities of the grammar are superior.
As far as the use of the odd term "e", this might be altered to "I", by deliberately increasing the usage of personal pronouns by parents and/or speech therapists while talking to Martin. As Michael Rutter has noted, it is often the case that everyday speech does not contain a great use of some personal pronouns, such as I.
There has been a marked progression from phrase-created speech to a primitive generative grammar, but as future progress, if it occurs, will most probably build on and improve the existing generative rules, we will try to keep a written record of utterances, and if possible, by taking samples (over the odd day), also try to ascertain the frequency of particular types of request.
Ability to differentiate objects
Martin will ask for objects (often with related actions), such as a drink or a story or a video. He can then understand and reply to a supplementary question which requires him to differentiate further between types of the same object.
Example 1:
M.:       e want drink
Q:  What sort of drink do you want?
M: e want orange
Example 2:
M:        e want Thomas (request for a video)
Q:        Which Thomas?          (which tape, there are 6-7 tapes, some compilations)
M:        e want Trevor (the only tape to feature Trevor the Traction engine)
e want Fishing  (the only tape to feature Thomas goes fishing) etc.
Example 3:
Q:        Which book do you want?      (the last bedtime story, usually Thomas)
M:        e want Thomas
Q:        Which Thomas?
M:        e want Saved from Scrap        (Saved from Scrap)
e want Trouble (Thomas in Trouble) etc.
This is demonstrating a rudimentary grasp of making choices, albeit prompted choices, and an ability to find a characteristic of an object which differentiates it from other objects of the same kind.
Language related to co-operation.
There seems to be a possibility for using songs, rhymes and related dances/movements for getting Martin to participate in games with others, and by so doing to learn to relate to others.
Words and actions
There seems to be a clear development from language generated by choosing from a set of existing phrases and the primitive generative grammar which is capable of creating genuinely new sentences.
It is noteworthy that the generative rules allow many different requests to be made for a relatively small investment - the verb "want" is very useful in this respect. If it were possible to encourage other such verbs (e.g. "have"- e have headache, nosebleed; "come" - Mummy come, Daddy come, "go", "wash" and other actions), this could increase the generative abilities of the language.
This could be done by prompting and fading techniques, where actions (pointing, commands) are talked through and mirrored by physical cues initially, then these cues are reduced.
Words and choices
The generative grammar is still a long way from the transformational rules evident in everyday speech - e.g making a question from sentence. or vice versa. Although anecdotal, it is interesting that Tony observed his niece's speech develop from a simple generative form based around the verb "do" (Mummy do, [name redacted] do etc.) quite rapidly to a transformational form (What mummy do? What daddy do?) well before other verbs and nouns came into the equation (7). The use of yes and no to indicate preference is also poor, at least with yes!
We would surmise that the initial stages transformational grammar is dependent upon a desire to find out motivations for actions; the evidence would be that autistic children have a deficiency in this sort of curiosity. But it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that both educational activities - particularly group activity - and speech therapy - might foster an increased awareness of "other minds".
Deficiencies in Speech
While Martin's vocabulary has grown, and the patterns of his speech have impoved, there are still notable deficiencies in his speech:
1) the absence of "yes" or "yes, please" to answer a question.
2) an inability to use speech for a good many requests, in which case, he will use hand-holding prompts to direct you to what he requires. Here, we in turn, use this as an opportunity for prompting and fading techniques.
Also, while he appears to always build on the language and grammar already acquired, we have observed that his use of language varies in a cyclical manner, from periods of advance when both the pattern and vocabulary show a noticable increase, to periods of withdrawal, when speech becomes noticably more limited in usuage.
At the present time of writing, he shows reluctance to differentiate between objects by speech, although this was very notable a month ago. If the pattern is cyclical, we would expect this to return in a month or two. The reasons for this phenomena are unknown, but we think that such times may be spent assimilating language skills after the effort required in acquiring them.
Future Prospects
As far as speech is concerned, we would hope that the greater the power of the generative grammar used by Martin, the more his understanding of the world will increase, and this in turn may (with teaching and luck) feedback into an improved and more powerful grammar, in which he might use his speech for other than simple requests 9.
June 1994
1. This follows the basis for describing linguistic phenomena laid out by N. Chomsky (Syntactic Structures).
2.         Here Martin follows very much the form of speech described as recitations and performances by Katherine Loveland (Narrative Language in Autism )
3.         On the signalling function of language, c.f. K Popper (The Self and Its Brain). While the M.L.U. of such utterances is obviously greater than 1, the more useful linguistic string length of a sentence is only 1,as each utterance can be described as a single token in a sentence.
4.         c.f. Alan Leslie and Daniel Roth (What autism teaches us about metarepresentations).
5.         The formal structure of generative grammars is set out in Chomsky (Language and Mind). Martin's speech displays a very poor finite state grammar, as it does not involve recursion, but can be described by a set of states moving from left to right.
6.         There is the possibility that it is an amalgam, a created word fused from several pronoun parts (I/me/he). Note that Martin will repeat "This old man, he played one etc" with a clearly enunciated "he" and not "e". Rita Jordan has pointed out problems with assimiliation of referential deixic labels.
6a.       More formally, we would say that (a) the pattern of gramatical structure has altered, and (b) the mean string length of a sentence in the language has increased. Note that Lorna Wing distinguishes between echolalia (immediate and delayed) and immaturity of grammatical structure of spontaneous (not echoed) speech (Communication, 1972).
7.         Tony has since found his "hunch" that this is common confirmed in part by various observations made by Helen Tager-Flusberg about the very early speech of normal and autistic children (What language reveals about the understanding of minds in children with autism). On transformational grammar, c.f. Chomsky, Op.Cit.
8.         c.f. Michael Rutter (The Treatment of Autistic Children).
9. c.f. Michael Rutter, Op.Cit. where the ability of language to suddenly emerge in some case-studies of autistic children is described; from this, it would appear that language acquisition might be well modelled mathematically by a catastrophe surface , c.f. Ian Stewart (Mathematical Realities) for examples of such models. Tony has since found a discussion of this by the mathematician and social scientist Jean Petitot (Localist Hypothesis and Theory of Catastrophes).
Appendix: Phrases Currently in Use:
This is a list of phrases used largely over one weekend; it is not comprehensive. Explanations are placed in brackets after the sentences; italics in the sentences themselves indicate that the word is pronounced unusually.
Phrase-Created Grammar
you've finished            (I've finished, e.g. a meal)
you've had enough      (I've had enough)
it's all right       (I'm alright)
no - ok!            (I do not want to do that!)
more tickle       (I want a tickle/hug/affection)
it's a naughty cough     (commenting on his coughing)
mummy's pocket         (what's in mummy's pocket - a biscuit or dummy?)
hello Martin how are you         (used to reduce stress)
Generative Grammar:
Food and Drink
e want mummy's coffee
e want drink
e want orange
e want milk
e want try some
e want sausage
e want chippies
e want milky bar
e want biscuit
e want Calpol
e want Thomas
e want boat      (a toy boat)
e want fish       (a toy rowing boat)
e want birdy     (toy penguin, mother and spring-pull attached baby)
e want that       (pointing to/indicating an object out of reach)
e want hat
e want coat on (but this may also mean "I want to leave/go out")
e want mummy
e want daddy
e want granny
e want popa-pete
e want brother
e want draw blind (on his bedroom window)
e want go to bed
e want cot
e want duvet
e want snuggle down
e want light off
e want light on
e want close door
e want music
e want gate       (stairgate)
e want a story
Going Out/Returning Home
e want coat on
e want go in car
e want go in garden
e want go outside         (garden)
At Home
e want come on mummy's lap
e want sitty on chair
e want to come out      (when sitting on chair)
e want turn it off          (music cassette/tv/video)
e want picture  (a framed photograph he likes)
e want Nursery Rhymes           (request for video)
e want Thomas            (request for video)
e want Postman Pat      (request for video)
e want mummy to do
e want dummy
e want dummy back (when taken away, particularly after having medicine)
mummy to do
mummy to help
e want mummy's glasses          (mummy is to put on her reading/sun glasses)
it's daddy         (on seeing daddy from window)
what he's doing(?)        (possible question about his brother)

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Myths of Mothering Sunday

"Mid-Lent Sunday.-In the Stroud and Minchinhampton districts, servant girls still expect to go home for "Mothering Sunday"; they generally take a cake with them. Cakes are sold in the Stroud shops for the purpose; so, too, in Bristol. At Randwick, married children go home to visit their parents. Round Haresfield, veal is eaten on this day" (Cotswold Place-Lore and Customs, 1912, J. B. Partridge)

"At Bury, a day of great feasting and rejoicing is kept in mid-Lent, and goes by the name of Mothering Sunday. The people come from far and near to visit their friends at Bury, and are entertained with "Simnel Cakes" and ale.  The shop windows are full of a particular kind of tempting cake, well sugared on the top, and made in every size, and these are the Simnel Cakes" for which the day- is famous). (The Irish Monthly, Rosa Mulholland, 1882)

There's a line of though that I've heard in sermons in the past, although less of late, that Mothering Sunday has to more to do with "Mother Church" and the connection with Mothers is a late afterthought. It is perhaps an understandable reaction to the range of cards some of which say "Mother's Day" and some of which say "Mothering Sunday", and of course all the meals, presents etc, all related to mothers - the Mother Church doesn't get much of a mention.

But I think that's a very bad idea, as if the idea of "Mother Church" could somehow be divorced from the universal idea of motherhood.

It happens to some degree in America, where for some strange historical reason, they have a "Mother's Day" elsewhere in the calendar. That's because the traditions had become moribund, and when revived, the appointed date was fixed elsewhere on the 2nd Sunday in May. As Ronald Hutton describes in "Stations of the Sun":

"Miss Anna Jarvis was well-connected enough to turn her personal obsessions into public laws, and her tireless lobbying caused the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States to legislate in 1913 that the second Sunday in May should be set aside as a national day of remembrance of mothers. It seems to have been the arrival of American soldiers in the Second World War which introduced the concept to England, where the memory of the old Mothering Sunday was still strong enough for the two to become merged."

So where did the original festival come from? There are a good many false leads, just so stories, often without firm historical evidence. One popular one is that this was a day in which people returned to their mother church, but the evidence for that is not well grounded.

The Book of Common Prayer at this time has a special Epistle on maternal love.  Galatians 4:26 states that "Jerusalem which is above is free; which is Mother of us all." But there is no indication in Cranmer's work of any special festivity for this day. It may well be that the idea of returning to a mother church was derived from this verse, rather than any historical practice of the past.

In fact, how and when Mothering Sunday came into the Christian year is another matter. If there was a pre-Reformation celebration of that name, it has left no trace in the sources, which is certainly an oddity. One would expect some mention of it, but there is none.

The earliest historical reference seems to date from the 17th century, and Ronald Hutton notes that:

"The earliest certain reference to it is in the journal of the royalist officer Richard Symonds, for the year 1644: 'Every Mid-Lent Sunday is a great day at Worcester, when all the children and godchildren meet at the head and chief of the family and have a feast. They call it the Mothering-day'. "

"To Symonds, an Essex man, the tradition was unfamiliar, and he did not hear of it elsewhere on his marches across southern England. Probably earlier still is the poem by Robert Herrick, published in 1648 but written at any time in the previous twenty years:"

I'le to thee a Simnel bring,
'Gainst thou go'st a mothering,
So that, when she blesseth thee,
Half that blessing thou'lt give me.

That is a reference to a Simnel cake, which as Bonnie Blackburn notes in "The Oxford Companion to the Year":

"It is an old custom in Shropshire and Herefordshire, and especially at Shrewsbury, to make during Lent and Easter, and also at Christmas, a sort of rich and expensive cakes, which are called Simnel Cakes. They are raised cakes, the crust of which is made of fine flour and water, with sufficient saffron to give it a deep yellow colour, and the interior is filled with the materials of a very rich plum-cake, with plenty of candied lemon peel, and other good things."

Hutton maps out the domain of counties in which a Mothering Sunday was observed, and it seems to have its origins in a fairly localised cluster of countries, and from thence to have spread out and become more universal as part of the Church of England's Christian calendar.

He notes the context of the festival seems more to have originated in familial than religious practices. It was the occasion when children who had gone to work as apprentices and domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mothers and families. As he notes:

"Mid-Lent would have been an excellent time for families to remeet and inform themselves upon each other's needs, when the conditions for travel were improving after winter and want would be greatest. Widowed mothers would have been especially vulnerable. In addition a cue may have been given by the epistle for that Sunday recommended in the Anglican Prayer Book: ' Jerusalem Mater Omnium'. "

This goes back to the medieval name for the Sunday of "Laetare Sunday" from the same epistle. But Hutton warns against reading too much back into the sources.  Although it had the name "Laetare Sunday" and seems to have been a day off the rigours of Lent, it went by many different names - Refreshment Sunday, Mid-Lent Sunday (in French mi-carême), and Rose Sunday.

One of the earliest liturgical notices of the extra day of Lent such as Laetare Sunday" occurs in the special Gospels assigned to them in a Toulon manuscript of 714. This notes that this was a special festival in Lent in which flowers were permitted, the organ could be played at the Divine Service and Vespers; rose-coloured vestments were allowed instead of purple. There is no mention of motherhood or processions!

Post-reformation, we have a sermon by Luther on the Loaves and Fishes (the Gospel reading) which emphasised the name "Refreshment Sunday". Interestingly the Lutheran church kept the tradition of rose-coloured or pink vestments.

As Hutton concludes:

"A long-established argument, that the custom also derived from a medieval rite whereby parish congregations processed to their 'mother church' (the cathedral of their diocese) upon this day, remains unproven."

But unproven, it has nevertheless become the religious narrative of choice, despite the lack of sources to support it; it is stated as a fact. For example, one website says:

"Centuries ago it was considered important for people to return to their home or "mother" church at least once a year. So each year, in the middle of Lent, everyone would visit their "mother" church, or the main church or cathedral of the area."

And another notes:

"A popular notion is that Mothering Sunday was an occasion when, in the 18th and 19th centuries, domestic servants were given the day off to visit their mothers and the family home. What is far more likely is that the gathering of families on Mothering Sunday was due to the older custom of going together to the Mother Church. ""

These are always vague pieces of folk-lore, with no sources, occasionally we are told "historians say", but lack anything substantive. Unfortunately such is the power of transmission of unverified ideas that this is taken as factual. It is at least as likely that the reverse is the case, and the domestic customs became entwined with the Lent and given religious overtones in a story back projection. What went simply under the term "Mid Lent Sunday" became "Mothering Sunday". Indeed, writing in Folklore (1961), Violet Alford went so far as to say that "Churches have annexed the day".

By way of demonstration of the variety of imaginative speculation, another website comes up with an explanation which is at least as plausible:

"England's Mother's Day observance goes back to the 13th century when "Mothering Sunday" was observed on the fourth Sunday of Lent (because it was originally for Mary, mother of Christ)."

Given the way in which the cult of Mary was more or less extinguished after the Reformation, this is at least as likely as tales about processions.

The situation is complicated further, because the Mothering Sunday traditions were moribund and fading fast when revived in America, because Anna Jarvis had a residual folk memory of the tradition in England. But when it returned to England, it focused on the existing festival day, and strengthened a religious narrative. As Christopher Howse explained in "The Telegraph":

"The British tradition grows a little complicated. For the revival of Mothering Sunday must be attributed to Constance Smith (1878-1938), and she was inspired in 1913 by reading a newspaper report of Anna Jarvis's campaign in America."

As the Oxford Dictionary of Nation biography notes:" Smith recorded disappearing folk customs and unusual local church traditions and recipes connected with the day, such as the Simnel cakes made in Shrewsbury, Bury, and Devizes and the wafer cakes baked in Chilbolton, Hampshire."

But it is in the revival that it took on its very modern form. As Christopher Howse notes:

"Constance Smith was a High Anglican who believed that "a day in praise of mothers" was fully expressed in the liturgy of the Church of England for the fourth Sunday of Lent. This is not entirely the case, for the Collect on that Sunday asks God that "we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved". That doesn't sound specifically maternal."

"Under the pen-name C. Penswick Smith she published a booklet The Revival of Mothering Sunday in 1920. Things snowballed, impelled by feelings consequent on the loss by many mothers of their sons in the First World War."

"Constance Smith's idea was not that Mothering Sunday should be limited to one Christian denomination, and its popularity spread through such open organisations as the Boy Scouts and Girls Guides. "By 1938," wrote Cordelia Moyse, the modern historian of the Mothers' Union, "it was claimed that Mothering Sunday was celebrated in every parish in Britain and in every country of the Empire."

Just as Victorians such as Dickens reinvented Christmas and gave us many of the trappings that we have today, it seems likely that Mothering Sunday, as a Christian festival, owes much to the religiosity of Constance Smith. That's not to say that is a bad thing. It is good to bless mothers. But the notion that it has nothing to do primarily with mothers fits badly with the historical evidence; if anything, it is the Christian reinvention which is more modern.

Having finished this, I was gratified to read Liz Lambotte, Youth Worker at St Aubin Methodist Church, writing in the JEP and getting the history spot on about the 17th century origins. She also has this to say, which I think is also extremely good:

"Mothering Sunday provides us with a wonderful opportunity to give thanks to all the women who have cared for us, not just those who have brought us into the world, but those women who love us and have nurtured us along our journey, those who have stood up for us, believed in us and showed compassion."

Saturday, 29 March 2014

More Saturday Limericks

The "Friday Poetry" group, of which I am a member, had for two weeks, the  theme as "Limericks", in honour of St Patricks's Day.

As I noted last week, the limerick is a nice form, because you can be silly and surreal, or you can actually be real but succinct, but there is always pretty well always an overtone of fun because of the form. Here are some more of mine for your amusement:

Last weeks can be read at:

I begin with a few Limericks based on real people. The first is somewhat humorous, about Heston Blumenthal, who produces all kinds of strange and exotic recipes - like snail porridge - at his restaurant "The Fat Duck", and people pay quite high prices to eat them!

There was a strange chef called Heston
Whose food confused the intestine
He made snail porridge
Which he kept in the fridge
And found willing diners to test on

In the second case, I look at a topical news story. In that case, the limerick has a touch of irony to its brief comment about the effectiveness of the response to Russia.

There was a Russian called Vladimir
Whose name was a byword for fear
He annexed the Crimea
And wept not a tear
While politicians just said "oh dear!"

The simplest limerick is the silly one, and this is based very loosely on the old saying "patience is a virtue, virtue is a grace, grace was a little girl who didn't wash her face". So here is a tale about that little girl.

There was a young lady called Grace
Who hardly ever washed her face
But her skin was pure
And she looked demure
Especially wearing gowns of lace

And here are a few other light, and rather silly ones. Although I think, many people have met the trendy young Vicar at some time or other in their lives.

There was a trendy young Vicar called Dave
Who embarked on a Mission to Save
Most people did flee
From his third degree
And ran off when he gave them a wave.

A church mouse was quiet as the grave
And used to live over the nave
Until one fine day
He decided to stray
A cat ate him, and he's now in a grave!

And on to fairy tales, and the one about Rip Van Winkle. "Rip Van Winkle" is a short story by American author Washington Irving published in 1819 as well as the name of the story's fictional protagonist. In the story Rip goes into a hollow in a mountainside, drinks moonshine, and awakes 20 years later. It's a myth that has been told of other characters, of course, but this is a distinctly American rendering.

A young man called Rip Van Winkle
Whose eyes had a merry twinkle
Went into caves deep
And fell in deep sleep
And awoke old with skin full of wrinkle

And my final one is from "The Hobbit, or There and Back Again" by Tolkien, the precursor to "Lord of the Rings", and currently being shown in a series of movies at the cinema:

There once was a Hobbit named Bilbo
Who went off to fight many a foe
He faced a dragon
Drank beer from a flagon
And far there and back did he go

Friday, 28 March 2014

Letters to my Grandchildren by Tony Benn (2010): A Review

"There are four questions which, although simple, and even child-like, get to the heart of the problem and offer a way for adults to act. Where there is injustice, the first question is: who gave one person the right to do harm to another? That is a revolutionary question which is directed at authority itself and the sources of power which sustain it. Then comes the question: what is going on? It is often a difficult one to answer but it is also an important one because if you do not understand a situation you cannot influence it. The next question is: why is it going on? It forces you to think about the nature of society and how it works. What can you do about it? is the most difficult but also the most important question of all." (Tony Benn)

One of the shortest publications to come from the pen of Tony Benn is the book "Letters to my Grandchildren". It's not nearly as long as the volumes of his diaries, having a bare 164 pages. Each section is very short, as if it was in fact, a letter. And over the course of this book, he covers many issues.

The tone of the book is very different from the diaries, however. It's like a grandfather gently reclining in a chair, with slippers on his feet, puffing away on his pipe; it is a warm and chatty style. Here is an example, and note how he takes the amusing letter from the constituent to raise a chuckle before moving on to the serious question of new technology and the moral questions it raises.

"When your parents were your age, and the United States and the Soviet Union were racing to land on the moon, the Russians put down a little robotic machine onto the lunar surface. One of my constituents in Bristol, where I was then the MP, wrote to me: "

"Dear Tony,

I see the Russians have put a space vehicle on the moon. Is there any chance of a better bus service in
Bristol? "

"It was a very good question. "

"From the beginning of time to the days when your future great-grandchildren are born, the choice is and will always be: what do you do with the technology you have? Is it for peace or war? Does it divide people or help to bring them together? And what effect could it have on the human race's capacity to govern itself peacefully? The uses made of technology thus raise fundamental, moral issues."

These letters are finely crafted, rather like secular sermons, and they begin like this, with a homely anecdote as the hook to take the reader into the actual point which he wants to make. The difference, of course, is that these are secular, although one feels the prophetic overtones bubbling away under the surface.

Technology is often a key feature of these letters, perhaps reflecting that he himself was once Minister for Technology, and oversaw the opening of the Post Office Tower; in its day, this was a marvellous leap forward in telecommunications.

And he looks at the technological revolution of the internet, and how it has fundamentally changed how information is controlled.

"All of you grandchildren, like everyone of your generation, take the internet and its social possibilities for granted. The technicalities of using it are hard for parents and grandparents to master but it has helped to create the best-informed generation in history and gives you freedom to exchange information and compare interests across the world. This very fact has made it a deadly threat to the powerful. Throughout history control of communication and information has been crucial to political control. Dictators use that power over information to dominate their people even if there is no provision for democracy."

It's not wholly true, of course. Secrets are still kept behind locked doors of governments, and it is sometimes hard to ask the question to open that door, and manage to get an answer. The internet has also become so swamped by data that there is also an awful lot of misinformation out there. It can be difficult sometimes to know where truth lies, although outside of David Ike's forums, you are unlikely to get much credence for supposedly eye-witness accounts that Ted Heath was a shape shifting alien, which is something which Ike himself seems to believe.

But what the internet does do extremely well is to widen terms of debate, and open up news sources that would have been in the past constrained by the editors of the great newspapers, and the magnates who owned them.  That can be both a blessing and a curse. If one considers the abdication crisis, the UK newspapers first kept the story out of circulation, and then the government and newspapers shaped the debate. They can still attempt to spin stories, but other voices can be heard, and other historical narratives offered.

And here is another opening which grabs the reader. He takes the global reach of travel, and uses it as a hook to open people's eyes to the places they visit - and the political regimes in charge.

"You think nothing of jumping on a plane and going to Beijing, or Nepal or Tehran. But when you arrive in any country, you should always ask yourself, `Who runs the joint? Power in the world has always been exercised by a tiny handful of people with their gangs of followers, and it is very easy to see what their interests are - to hang on to their wealth and power and increase them wherever possible."

This is perhaps an over cynical view of the world, and it is not altogether clear how much power can be exercised by individuals, and how much comes from market systems which may be beyond anyone's ability to control. It is notable, for instance, that examples of that, as with the credit crunch, are rather conspicuous by their absence. And political regimes do collapse, and on occasion, as in Russia, quick rich businessmen can find their wealth is no safeguard against brute political power.

Nevertheless, the questions about who runs a country, who is in charge, and how they hold onto power is still one worth asking. Power can easily become a vice, a magnet drawing people in, and those who enter politics with the best of intentions can be corrupted by the desire to hold onto the reigns of power.

Nothing is perhaps more pitiful than a politician who was in power, but who has fallen from the charmed circle, suddenly coming to the realisation that power resides in an inside group, and he is no longer part of that; it is pitiful, because they invariably never saw that while in office, and one strongly suspects that should they be in a position of power again, all those doubts and criticism would melt away like morning dew. But what they do show, and show very well in their resentment, is that there is invariably a charmed circle of some kind, which draws a ring around its deliberations, and keeps backbenchers at arms length. I think that's true of even those who espouse consensus.

Most of the letters also look back on history, and take lessons from the past into the present. There's an interesting one on slavery, which looks at the abolition of slavery, but also looks at the different degrees in which slavery persists today. Some of this is to a degree metaphorical, as with debt slavery, but some of it is still very much a throwback to slavery.

People trafficking, which mostly effects women, is something that while illegal, still persists in its own very black market. And while Lord Shaftsbury worked to implement the Factory Acts in Victorian society to restrict and eventually outlaw the exploitation of child labour, we are often still happy to get cheap consumer goods from distant lands, and not give the sources of those goods the scrutiny which they deserve, where childhoods are being stolen:.

"In industrial society, workers are to some extent at the mercy of their employers and might be sacked if they oppose or question their conditions of employment; if they have mortgage and cannot make the repayments, their home: may be repossessed. So debt slavery is also a form of control. Of course, we believe slavery to have ended and imperialism to be history, but there are two new forms of slavery that have developed in your lifetime: the hideous trafficking of women for prostitution and the completely unacceptable use of child labour to produce cheap consumer goods for the richer countries."

It is interesting that Tony Benn's vision of workers, while heavily critical of large businesses which can use their economic leverage to protect their global interests, is strongly in favour of small businesses. What he means by workers are not just those employed, but employers who also work very hard for relatively little return:

"When socialists talk of workers, they must necessarily include small businesses, not only the ones that produce new ideas, but also the shopkeepers and organisations that meet most of your daily needs, and are run by people who work very hard, whether in a newsagent or a small engineering factory and do not have teams of accountants and public relations officers to market their goods."

"The small business that innovates, develops and markets new products - as Nahal will know - or meets local needs efficiently, has to be regarded as the pioneer of the new technology and deserves public support and indeed backing from the labour movement."

"A real political problem arises when it gets so big that it becomes a force of its own, using its influence to control governments. This is even more true of multinational corporations that have no local roots and are rich enough and strong enough to campaign to protect their economic interests against governments and parties that are much less well financed."

On elections, he is firmly in favour of the Single Transferable Vote as the fairest way to conduct an election, but he also has an interesting point to make about candidate's interests, which I think would be of great benefit, not just in the UK, but also locally:

"The register of members' interests which was established some years ago should be extended to become a register of candidates' interests, for electors are entitled to know the interests of all candidates before they are elected rather than after."

On cabinet government, and collective responsibility, he thinks too much power is in the hands of the Prime Minister: "Government ministers are subject to even tighter control than MPs because their employer is the prime minister who has the absolute right to dismiss them"

That can mean that the Government Minister has a strong structural bias to support the Cabinet, whereas Tony Benn sees the responsibility of all members of Parliament quite differently. He would like more power to devolve back to Parliament. Jersey is, of course, heading in the opposite direction in this, with the new proposition about collective responsibility, and an increase in the power and patronage of the Chief Minister.

Tony Benn is speaking, of course, of a Party System, but it is, I think, a good illustration of the balance between different responsibilities faced by a member of Parliament, and how you have to weigh them up:

"I can think of no greater honour than serving as an MP, and the relationship between you and your MP must be one of trust, for in democracy sovereignty belongs to the people and they merely lend their power to those who represent them. An MP's first responsibility is therefore to constituents. "

"The second responsibility of an MP is to the local party, who can select - and deselect -- the candidate and must trust whoever they do select to work honestly for the policies to which they are committed. MPs also have a general responsibility to the party of which they are members. "

"Finally and most importantly, MPs have a responsibility to their own conscience, which may on occasion lead them into conflict with their local or national party or even into voting against the majority opinion of their constituents."

There are homely anecdotes throughout, and one thing that becomes clear is the importance of contact with the constituents who elected you. This is something which is a vital part of being a member of Parliament, although it often goes on behind the scenes in Jersey, as in the UK.

I was impressed, recently, and privileged to hear of some of that work done (from a constituent) by Montfort Tadier, and doubly impressed because I know he has made no political capital of this behind the scenes helping his St Brelade constituents. I know that Deputy Judy Martin and Deputy Geoff Southern also do a lot helping people who are struggling with income support forms. This is not showy, of the kind of work that gets you on the BBC Radio slot, or a picture in the JEP, but it is the backbone of democracy.

I'm sure that, far from being idle, many Deputies do a lot unseen and confidential, and often in evenings when people are free. Just because a Deputy does not blow their own trumpet, does not mean that they don't work hard for those they represent.

I know from my own experience when Deputy Graham Huelin helped our family that a lot of this background work goes on. Those who think that all Deputies are largely idle wasters - and I have seen that accusation several times - are speaking with the confidence of ignorance. There are idle Deputies, and I could name a few, but to tar all with that brush is unjust.

Tony Benn gives an anecdotal insight into his surgeries, and how they worked:

"The surgeries became almost like a psychotherapy session. One elderly man on crutches asked me to help him prosecute his teenage son and, with gentle questioning he poured out a whole series of incidents. I asked him at the end, `I wonder whether possibly you are a bit jealous of your son?'  His attitude changed and he clapped his thigh, shook my hand and said, `Mr Benn, I believe you are absolutely right.' He picked up his crutches and walked out. "

"I have given a lot of thought to the work of a local member of parliament and have come to the view that much of the casework fell into the same category as the palliative care offered by hospices. Support was needed whether or not you could actually solve the problem for a particular constituent. The people who wrote to me or queued up at my advice centres to tell me their stories, wanted to be heard and they wanted me to listen."

The letters end on a note of humility, and warmth, as he looks back on his life, and takes stock of the future, with hope. Despite everything, he remains an optimist:

"Living as I do `in a blaze of autumn sunshine' I realise I have learned more from my children and grandchildren than I did from my parents and therefore look with love .and thankfulness on the human family. It seems appropriate to end these letters in a spirit of love and gratitude and sign myself off"

I think that long after the diaries have collected dust on the bookshelf, forgotten except by historians piecing together different perspectives on our age, this small little book will still be read. It does not provide answers, so much as questions; but in doing so, it raises matters which we and our children and grandchildren will need to address.

This is not the whole Tony Benn. The tearing apart of the Labour party, and the Manfesto described as the longest suicide note in political history (and the terrible election defeat which followed), and Benn's active involvement in them is not to be found in his historical anecdotes or his comments about Government and the Labour Party.

Also the misplaced support he gave to the Militant Tendency, the movement within the Labour party which used the threat of deselection to try to  manipulate members of Parliament as puppets is also not present. Lessons could be taken from those, but no letters address those matters.

That matters, in terms of assessing the political legacy of Tony Benn. But this book is not about that political legacy. It is not an examination of a life, or an autobiography. It is not a political tract. It is more of a statement of faith, of optimism and hope in the next generation, and, as the subtitle puts it, of "Thoughts for the Future".

And regardless of whether we regard Tony Benn as a dangerous maverick, a National Treasure, a ruthless operator (as Jack Straw described him), or a determined democrat, the matters which he raises are important issues. I'd recommend this to anyone, especially young people, to look at those issues which are presented here in a clear style which is certainly reminiscent in many ways of George Orwell or C.P. Snow. It is very readable, almost chatty, and never boring.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Shaping the Future of Tourism in Jersey

I'm very pleased to have a guest post today by Adam Gardiner (for one thing, it saves me time and effort!). But Adam makes some very strong points, and also gives some constructive ideas for the way forward.

While he is critical of the current situation, that is important too. It is necessary to see what problems and failings need to be addressed by Visit Jersey, so that it does not make the same mistakes.

What I particularly like is the way in which he clearly has looked outside the Island to see what other locales are doing to boost tourism, and for models which could be suitable for Jersey, with suitable modification to fit our particular circumstances. As the cliché puts it, why re-invent the wheel? See what is successful elsewhere, and learn from that. We can be too insular in outlook.

A Guest Post from Adam Gardiner

The Failings of Jersey Tourism

Whether Jersey is expensive or not it is still the job of tourism promote the island and get results. If their view is and has been that the major obstacle to growing our visitor numbers, then why have they not publicly said just that and made proposals that would reduce some of those obstacle costs? All they seem to have done is spend our money to no effect on the one hand, and massage figures on the other, to suggest that things have been improving.

What is not so clear is whether the model being proposed will in fact be little more than a name change and the same sorry band of incumbents will simply 'move across'. That will get us nowhere in my opinion as they will have the same ingrained prejudices and likely to bring the same civil service bureaucracy and poor costing judgements with them that has blighted our Tourism for so many years.

For example: Tell me how it could possibly cost £250,000 to develop the website?

Their failings are endless. Despite all the posturing and assurances they have never got to grips with online booking - and those few items that have managed are all through expensive 3rd party licenses and outrageous royalty payments.

Given their brief they still take Jersey out of RHS Britain in Bloom having imposed their own minima of participating parishes yet not offer the slightest financial encouragement - yet can waste £3m on a national advertising campaign suggesting that everything in the Jersey garden is lovely.

It should be noted that the RHS do not set any minima. The minima of 6 parishes was set by Tourism who essentially promote and co-ordinate the event. Jersey could have gone ahead with the 5 parishes that had confirmed their participation. Tourism simply chose to withdraw from the competition and thereby deny those Parishes who wished to take part from so doing, since its self-set minima of 6 was not reached. Make no mistake, this was a cost cutting excerise and little else. The point is, that whatever the situation, Tourism passed up an opportunity to provide Jersey with a clear promotional opportunity. A failure to perform to their remit.

They have failed time and time again to produce real tourism figures. Simply counting arrival figures without knowing the purpose of the visit or who of that number are local residents is nothing short of mismanagement; inflating the numbers to justify their jobs.

Why "Visit Jersey" needs the right approach

I think we must avoid playing towards the industry to a point where the taxpayer is effectively subsiding personal marketing budgets. Industry-led is one thing, i.e. harnessing their expertise and knowledge, but subsidising the main-players in the sector to boost their profits is quite another. That must be avoided at all costs.

The Southampton model is somewhere close to what I envisage. The formation of a company that is licensed by the City Council and whose remit is to facilitate tourism and bring forward initiatives, co-ordinate effort and dovetail the various facets and assets that collectively create appeal.

In Southampton's case, it is seen as a transport hub (airport, cruise port) and as a destination for day-trippers, alongside the conference and business market. No-one holidays in Southampton! They don't say that of course but their marketing is designed to promote those elements.

Jersey's objectives and challenges are different, but the principle is the same.the same principle that is becoming widely adopted throughout the UK and Europe where 'tourist boards' have given way to a licensed company - often more than one.

Even London abandoned it's London Tourist Board long ago and developed the London Visitor Centre - a facility where several companies rent sales space for delivering a wide range of tourist amenities - from hotels and transport to attractions in co-ordination with the more general enquiries 'self-staffed' section. Its operation falls under the office of the Mayor of London (good old Boris!) not Parliament, or a council or indeed has any 'political' overseer at all. London is expensive, but it does not stop a 150 million people from visiting the city in 2013!

More interestingly, in some parts of the UK, Visitor Information Centres have become implants into other businesses, almost a franchise if you like.

It's this we should be looking at first, and not a business plan. A business plan comes out of research and the formulating of clear objectives; cost assessments including distribution.

A new company should be looking to appoint partners in the UK - existing businesses that will and can promote Jersey - let them decide on their local marketing strategies - they know their customers best and will know what sort of Jersey will appeal to their clientele.

Kayaks paddling into the sunset and people clinking glasses of champagne on an alfresco terrace accentuates the very expensive they moan about being the obstacle to tourism. Wake up! It's horses for courses.

And regarding transport, I believe that the Airport together with the Port of St. Helier (not its harbours per se) should be regarded as strategic assets and not necessarily designed to deliver a commercial profit directly. Their ease of use and reasonable fees would encourage more travel and the economy overall be enriched.

In other words, parts of there operations should be at the taxpayers expense -subsidised if you like. I am very happy with the whole concept of the user pays, but just like say the hospital we pay without using it but comfortable that in the event we may need to its there and affordable!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Shadowy Proposals

There's been a lot about enthusiasm for the "Preliminary Report of the Tourism Shadow Board" but while it marks a step forward, the report is more like an impressionist painting. From the distance, you can see the outline of a big picture, but examine it more closely, and it is actually quite fuzzy. Here are a few comments:
"It is our view that the only route to success on this scale is through a radical rethink of the way in which the Island is promoted as a destination"
"It will be a performance led organisation run as a commercial entity with results measured in real outcomes"
Well, it is notoriously difficult to measure outcomes of an organisation like that. Just look at Jersey Finance. How much new business is the "outcome" from Jersey Finance, and how much is due to individual businesses? I have yet to see any means by which that can be quantified. Jersey Finance does "talk up" Jersey, and smooth the way for new markets overseas, but so do private businesses, and determining exactly how much benefit accrues from Jersey Finance is tricky.
But if, by outcome, they mean rising visitor numbers - and include statistics there of rising numbers for accommodation (including camp sites), that would be a good measure. Without that, of course, we have no way of knowing if any increase in traffic is actually related to visitors and not locals.
And they say this of the old board:
"In its reporting the Bureau appears to measure output rather than outcomes. The most recent Marketing Activity Report contained in the Bureau's 2012 Annual Review speaks of significant growth in its website visits, but doesn't report the conversion rate. Similarly, the numbers of emails dispatched, brochures mailed, sales meetings conducted, trade exhibitions organised and responses to requests for information are listed, but there is no measurement of results against all this activity. There is no doubt that the Bureau has been very busy, but it is impossible to say the activity has been productive in the absence of any meaningful performance metrics. "
But it is not clear what performance metrics they will themselves use. This is left out of their report, and is not mentioned anywhere in the "three principal areas" that they look at. Instead they look at a rather vague proposition that any growth is good:
"How should growth be measured? Is it in the number of staying leisure visitors or the length of stay? In terms of yield or visitor spend? Or is it simply an increase in the sector's GVA? The TSB considered all these questions and concluded that, from the position the Island is in now, all growth is good growth. It would be the role of Visit Jersey in developing a strategy to consider and resolve these and other details."
One thing they don't mention, which my correspondent Adam Gardiner suggests, is a very simple means of monitoring transport links, and is used successfully elsewhere: "An 'immigration' card handed out on the plane or on the boat. Say, a red one for locals and a green one for visitors, re-collected as you disembark."
So we don't have firm details in this report, but Visit Jersey, the new independent Quango, would have "to consider and resolve these". This seems to be placing a great deal onto the shoulders of the nascent organisation, and it would have been nice if the Tourism Shadow Board had some pointers to give.
It is a pity that the board, having been so critical of the existing Tourism Department, is unable to come up with anything better, but simply leaves it to "Visit Jersey"
"By establishing a new operating model it will eliminate the divisions that exist between the industry and the body which currently promotes it, Jersey Tourism"
"The flow of evidence considered by the TSB points to a breakdown in the relationship between the industry and Jersey Tourism"
Which says essentially that Jersey Tourism is not fit for purpose. And the Minister who welcomed the report with such enthusiasm - Senator Alan Maclean - has presided over this dysfunctional state of affairs since his appointment in 2008.
And it doesn't surprise me - just look at the cessation of bus links from the harbour, of all places, into St Helier. That is Jersey Tourism's remit - to lobby for that, and Senator Maclean as Minister responsible for Tourism should have brought pressure to bear on his counterpart at TTS.
It would seem that he was aware in some way of the problems between Jersey Tourism and the industry, and may well have brought the proposition to form a Shadow Tourism Board as a way of sorting matters out, and getting past the impasse in which he found himself locked.
But it took until 2013 for such a proposition to be passed by the States. One wonders if the problems were as bad as this report makes them out to be, what he on earth he was doing in the meantime? Was he banging his head against a brick wall in silence? The report, however, is very vocal in its criticisms:
"The flow of evidence considered by the TSB points to a breakdown in the relationship between the industry and Jersey Tourism; the sector's representative body, the Jersey Hospitality Association, is calling for urgent, radical change"
"Whilst annual marketing plans are developed by Jersey Tourism, there does not appear to be a coherent long-term strategic plan for the promotion of Jersey as a destination"
"The Jersey tourism industry in general and the hospitality sector in particular voiced little confidence in Jersey Tourism's ability to turn things around"
And surely the politicians involved, Senator Ozouf until 2008, and Senator Maclean from that date to the present, must take some of the blame. The report certainly thinks that there has been a failure of political oversight:
"Insufficient political attention was paid to early signs of tourism decline.
"There still appears to be some political equivocation as to the value and importance of tourism"
I always find it amazing when a report which is clearly critical in places of political oversight is welcomed by the Minister involved. I can only suppose it is Senator Maclean's way of deflecting criticism away from himself.
Certainly, this does not want to be matched up with recent stories in the media about tourism being treated as a poor second when it comes to Finance as far as Ministerial support is concerned at promotional events.
Ironically, the preamble to the proposition by Senator Maclean establishing the Shadow Board said that
"Jersey Tourism will, in future, benefit from the appointment of a Shadow Board, drawn from the private sector, to oversee strategy and the day to day operation of the Island's destination marketing programme in the UK, Continental Europe and other international markets."
In fact, the recommendation if the Board is to more or less close Jersey Tourism down! It must have come as something of a shock to staff, given the glowing words of the original Ministerial Decision which said:
"It is a credit to the industry including the activity of Jersey Tourism that despite the worldwide economic conditions, over the last three years, the number of staying leisure visitors and visitor spend has remained largely consistent."
But after the trenchant criticism of the Shadow Board of Jersey Tourism (given above), their report notes:
"Jersey would best be served were the future of tourism put in the hands of a fully independent, grant-funded body, which would subsume all activity currently undertaken by Jersey Tourism and certain other agencies, while developing an entirely new approach"
And will "Visit Jersey" be staffed largely with existing staff, given the divisions and inability of the old Tourism department to work with the industry (one of its key arguments)? And if not, what will happen to those staff? While that is not within its own remit, one would expect Senator Alan Maclean to address that kind of issue, and it is not clear whether he has any firm answers. But he needs to, if only for the sake of the employees for whom he must owe a degree of moral responsibility.
All we have had from the Minister in the JEP is the bland statement - "Are we going to be able to take all staff? No. But there is a great deal of opportunity for existing staff". Clearly staff will have to reapply for jobs in the new "Visit Jersey", with no assurances that they will get any appointments, and no assurances have been given for what will happen if they do not get taken on.  He has said that redeployment within the States and voluntary redundancy are "possibilities" after "Visit Jersey".
"Jersey Tourism will, in future, benefit from the appointment of a Shadow Board" said the Minister. Well, it must be some benefit to an existing Department to have a recommendation that it be replaced! Seldom has the rationale for a proposition been so firmly contradicted by its outcome.
I can only speculate as to morale at Jersey Tourism. It must be rock bottom, especially as the Minister accepted these proposals with such enthusiasm. If the Minister "benefits" from the voters in October in a similar way, he will be out on his ear!
Returning to the report - it attempts to give a history of tourism and its decline. But this historical narrative is highly suspect. It speaks of a rally after attempt by Jersey Tourism to boost the industry, and notes that:
"For a time it seemed the efforts were being rewarded. However, the underlying trend continued to be downward and some of the established players in hospitality and leisure began to exit."
There is no acknowledgement of the fact that the 1980s saw the start of budget airlines cutting swathes into the market. By the 1990s and post-Bergerac, this had devastating effects on the industry. It became cheaper to go to southerly sun-drenched destinations than to come to Jersey, and by retaining the existing price structure, Jersey simply could not compete.
At the time, this also coincided with John Rothwell (President of Tourism Committee) policy to modernise hotels and guest houses and go upmarket, so that the proprietors tended to recoup costs by increasing prices, at what could not have been a worst time.
There was also an edict in place to ensure continuity of year round services, to the exclusion of any cheaper airlines operating in the summer months. In part this was sensible, as the airlines needed the summer for the viability of the winter, but it might have been better to operate more like the domestic bus company, and have more and cheaper flights in the summer balanced by fewer flights in the winter. The net effect, in any rate, was for prices to remain sufficiently high to deter tourists coming to Jersey.
The report does address this, but offers no solutions - "There is no transport policy for the Island, for sea and air which would satisfy both business and leisure traffic with a year-round service"
But the history of decline, which involves the advent of budget airlines to sun-soaked destinations does not seem to have appeared anywhere in the report, which surely is a major oversight. It is like writing about the evacuation at Dunkirk, but without mentioning the encroaching German armies; it is history with a hole in its centre.
The new preliminary recommendations say:
"Access management - protecting and developing all routes into Jersey and managing trade relationships to ensure all forms of traveland booking methods are embraced"
Which doesn't tell us how it is going to address the problem of cost, and competition with budget airlines!
Bottom line: "Visit Jersey" is fundamentally looking at marketting, but it is not clear that it would address the underlying issues such as high air cost to Jersey.
The report lays down the barest guidelines and says that the "Visit Jersey" quango would be tasked with "developing a strategy to consider and resolve these and other details." 
So a lot is being placed on the new entity without specifying in too many details how it would be more successful than the old one. Like Jersey Finance, there is a clear implication buried in the report that it could levy extra funds from members (or stakeholders), so it would have more cash. But how it would measure success seems largely to have been left to itself to decide, which is not perhaps the most independent way of doing so.
For the meantime, we are left with an artists sketch, which is a good start, but is only a work in progress, and does not really get to grips with some fundamental issues.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Bald Truth: A Global Brand

Have you heard of "The Bald Truth"? Locals may know it as the blog site of Trevor Pitman - and there is also a website under that name, which needs updating - it still refers to him as "Deputy Trevor Pitman". But there are a surprising lot of other Bald Truths out there, as I found out when I was trying to remember the former Deputy's Twitter feed. So here is a trawl through the virtual realm of Baldness and Truth, rather like Dave Gorman's search for Dave Gorman (of which more later).
One of the first to come up above Trevor's blog in Google is the website:  
This has the headline banner - "Sex, Life and Hair Loss", and it is a weekly talk radio show hosted by Spencer Kobren, founder and president of the American Hair Loss Association. I've been unable to find if Trevor has ever tuned in. Quite how you can talk every week on hair loss alone without repeating yourself endlessly is beyond me, which is probably why they added life and sex to spice up the show.
It is a rather peculiar conjunction, as if hair loss somehow correlated to loss of libido, or loss of attractiveness to women. Given the fan mail received by Telly Savalas as Kojak, I don't think that is the case. "Who loves you, baby?" as he would ask, but perhaps it is the lollipop in Kojak's hand that was the real aphrodisiac.
And from there, going towards the UK, we have a website all about deep personal life changes at:  
"From money to health, from business to relationships -  anybody exposed to Rohans passionate delivery, live coaching sessions and practical tools experience deep personal life changes. His journey continues as he expands both his brand The Bald Truth and his message globally."
While on Twitter, one of the first Twitter accounts to pop up is a political one. But not that of Trevor. This is the one which grabbed the first wording on Twitter:
The Bald Truth, @thebaldtruth
"I talk about things that matter (i.e., politics and Pittsburgh sports). Pittsburgh, PA"
I love the juxtaposition of the universal - "politics" and the particular "Pittsburgh Sports"! I can't really think of local politicians who make that kind of coincidence of two interests together. But as I am not really a sports fan, it is possible that it just has not registered.
There is also Dave Hanks, who has the Twitter @BaldTruthHR
His bio says: "An HR VP with 15+ years of experience talks Simple but Difficult Truths about Human Resources. Cincinnati, OH"
It's intriguing, with the combination of "simple" and "difficult", which seems almost a contradiction in terms. It reminds me of Bertrand Russell devoting an entire book of logic to prove that 1+1=2.
And then we are back to hair again, with
"In this documentary we will uncover the secrecy that has made it difficult to find out the truth about hair replacement techniques. #BaldTruthDoc London ·"
And in the UK:
"The Bald Truth @TheBaldTruthUK
Motivation, inspiration and anti-discrimination for baldies, balders and sympathisers."
Should Jersey's new discrimination law have a special anti-discrimination law for the follicle-challenged men, one might ask? It seems absurd, until you read an interesting story on the Huffington post in which John T Capps told the paper:
"And then on the last day, when they brought us in to give us our review and whether we made it or not -- then they were just casual enough at that time to say, 'you know, the image of our company does not have room for a bald head. We are dealing with young people, you are going to be associated with young people, and baldness is kind of associated with more mature people. We need our company to represented by somebody that has hair."
On a very different tack, is "Good Ape" at @BaldTruthTeller, who has, we are told, an "Insatiable hunger for the truth." This appears to be an atheist Tweeter with rather a caustic turn of phrase:
"The Quran claims to contain an explanation of everything past present and future. The English version doesn't seem to mention antibiotics though"
And of the Bible's authorship: "A desert dwelling nomad fantasy writer from 2000 years ago"
Meanwhile, we have BFT Foundation @BFTFoundation
This is "The Bald Faced Truth Foundation" which is "is a 501(c)3 organization that promotes joy and growth in youth through support of the arts, music, education and athletics. Portland, Oregon ·"
And the somewhat sparse and Tweet free
The Bald Truth @TheBaldTruth1, which is "Fat-free since 1982"
And pretty tweet free, too!
But the one I rather like the best is
The BALD TRUTH@CoachRicKolster
Ric's bio is a "Leadership Expert, Executive Coach, Motivator Author of Roll Up Your Sleeves and Get To Work. Coach Rick speaks The BALD TRUTH Southlake, TX ·"

It's an interesting mix of though provoking maxims, and the odd comic one, and here is a selection:
"God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages."
"A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song. What is YOUR song today? Will you sing it?"
"Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs."
"There are only two kinds of people in the world, the Irish and those who wish they were."
"It is better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret."
"It's time to start living in the present.  Letting go of the past is not easy, especially if you have wounds that have never properly."
"Resentment, hate and anger are like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."
"Nobody believes the official spokesman... but everybody trusts an unidentified source."
The last could particularly apply to Jersey, where official spin has eroded trust in political statements, which are often face-saving, and don't appear particularly honest, and the rumour mill, where unidentified sources may sometimes be treated with less suspicion than they deserve. The truth, in all probability, lies somewhere in between, whether bald or not.

For anyone intrigued by this kind of meander, I'd recommend Dave Gorman's site:

Monday, 24 March 2014

TV Reviews: Creme de la Crime

Jonathan Creek came to an end about a week ago, and in terms of structure, and the bizarre nature of events which befall its protagonists, it is moving more towards David Renwick's other show, "One Foot in the Grave". There is a mystery element, but it is exceedingly slight, and no longer the pivot around which the whole episode revolves. This is disappointing, because the Christmas special showed the magic touch that we have come to expect. Unfortunately, these three episodes fell very flat, despite a rather neat effort to lampoon Sherlock.
The difference, I suppose, is that Sherlock is still built around one big story, which Holmes and Watson have to solve. It is true that it has the familiar mainstay of modern television, the story arc, but each episode can be relished more or less as stand along. And for sheer plot, it just blows Jonathan Creek away.
The Mentalist has returned post-Red John, and with a different team, it suddenly seems rather tired, plotting by numbers, with no sense as yet that there is any major threat lurking in the background which can surface. It will be interesting to see the episode where one of the original team is kidnapped, as the reviews suggest that the suspense is palpable. And what happened to the natty suits and clean shaven Patrick Jane - he's now definitely sporting designer stubble, looking rather like he's a bit run down, rather like the series.
Meanwhile, the other thriller in police drama, Line of Duty came to an end this week, in a story which divided viewers. I rather liked it; it explained the motivations of DI Lindsay Denton's actions, and filled in the gaps we didn't know. Justice was not wholly served, and the documentary style ending with photos and information about the characters added to that sense of realism. It has been a compelling roller coaster, a return to the "wait a week" cliff-hangers that many thought were consigned to the past. Most series with parts broadcast over successive nights, but this bucked the trend. I liked the unresolved threads left (for series three?), and the ambiguity which mirrored real life.
Real life is not what one has in Bergerac, of course, which ends a rather swiftly curtailed run on BBC2 early next week. It is the series three when Bergerac and his wife get on better, and I always thought it was a shame that this line was rejected in favour of him getting another girlfriend. Of course, the reason for the curtailment was the filming of series four onwards at Haut de La Garenne, and the BBC being sensitive to issues involving child abuse. Episodes of Top of the Pops have also not been shown where they involved Jimmy Savile. It is a wise decision. Many children were abused at Haut de La Garenne, and the Historic Abuse Inquiry is about to begin.
What Bergerac does so well, mass murder of millionaires and gangsters excepted, is to show a Jersey that has now been all but lost. We can see the harbour, when it was the old and charming harbour, full of character, and not the building sites and ugly buildings that tourists have to pass by nowadays. The Sealink boats remind us of when there were boats which linked up to train timetables - do they now under Condor? I doubt it, because there has been no advertising of that fact. St Brelade's Beach was full of tourists, and I remember beach combing for left over buckets and spades at the end of the holiday season, when they'd be left behind. And the old airport building, in much more innocent and less dangerous days, had a viewing platform on the flat roof close to the control tower, which even had one of those beachside telescopes.
Law and Order has returned, with a finely judged performance from Bradley Walsh in particular. The police team has altered, the legal team has altered, but Bradley as DS Ronnie Brooks remains resolutely at its core, giving a feel of authenticity - those glasses, that grey and rumpled mac - that a series like this needs.
Meanwhile, at the weekend, I caught up with a film I have never seen before - "The Day of the Jackal". It is a superbly watchable film, and it is not afraid to take its time as the Jackal, portrayed wonderfully by Edward Fox, prepares all the fine details that he will need for a successful assassination of Charles de Gaulle. On the other side, the meetings, the police thinking, and procedures, all lend it a ring of truth, giving it at times an almost documentary feel - we are eavesdroppers on behind the scenes police work. It was Frederick Forsyth's debut novel, shooting him to millionaire status, and rather like ""The Eagle has Landed", it doesn't matter that we know that the core target survives; it is the cat and mouse game between the Jackal and police which drives the story and makes it so compelling.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Alfred Tennyson, 1809-92: Part II: The Early Years

I've been trawling through the archives at the library again, and in particular for Sundays, "The Pilot" which was the monthly magazine for the Church of England in Jersey for many years. Every month, there would be pieces from the minister of each church, along with various other articles of interest.
In 1995, the Reverend Tony Keogh began a series of articles in "The Pilot" under the umbrella title "God and the Poets", beginning with a four part look at Tennyson. I thought it was a shame that it should be buried in the past, so I've transcribed it for my blog. Here is part 2.
In Memoriam can be read at  
And there is a discussion of it with Melvin Bragg on "In Our Time" at:  
which can be listen again, or download as Podcast.
God and the Poets:
Alfred Tennyson, 1809-92: Part II: The Early Years
By Tony Keogh
Alfred Tennyson was born in 1809, the sixth of twelve children of the Rector of Somerby in Lincolnshire. His paternal grandfather, a solicitor and businessman, disinherited Tennyson's father, his eldest son George, and ruled over the family like an ogre. The Rector himself was addicted to alcohol and died in 1831 after some distressing episodes, aged fifty-three.
Alfred went to Louth Grammar School but was unhappy so was educated at home until he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge. He was critical of Cambridge as a whole, a society of "puddle-paced square caps" and "tiny-witted teachers," whom he wrongly charged with whipping and rusticating John Milton; this severe re judgment was much regretted by him later on. He left without taking a degree, which did not concern him over much since he and his friends knew that he was going to be a poet which profession did not require the accolade of academe. In fact, Cambridge was emerging from its eighteenth century torpor to become the university of Lightfoot, Westcott, Hort, Jebb, Kelvin and eventually Rutherford and Hawkings.
Tennyson received training in the Classics; essential to his own poetry, and belonged to a group of young intellectuals known as the Apostles, of which the "Coleridge" among theologians, F D Maurice, a great friend of Tennyson throughout his life, was an early inspiration. In later years, the Apostles came to be
regarded as homosexual in orientation, but Tennyson was at an age of innocence in male friendship and Freud had not yet appeared to make society sex-obsessed.
It was at Cambridge that Tennyson met his greatest friend of all, Arthur Hallam, a promising scholar and poet, who became engaged to one of his sisters. It was a tragically brief friendship of barely four years yet therein lies its pathos and its abiding influence.
Hallam and Tennyson went abroad together in 1831 on a curious excursion to the Pyrenees to take money to a Spanish revolutionary general, the money having been collected from those, including the Apostles, who were anxious to support the growing movements of European democracy which, so feeble at this time, became the hallmark of nineteenth century history. To quote Auden, "This was Tennyson's first and last excursion into practical politics."
Hallam journeyed to Vienna and Budapest in 1833, partly at his father's suggestion, to aid his convalescence from serious influenza. He was excited at what he saw, both in art and society, but he caught a slight fever in Austria on his way home and died suddenly on 15th September.
Tennyson did not display devastated outward grief: "He seemed less overcome than one would have expected," was the comment of a friend. The death coincided with some harsh reviews of his poetry which made him desist from further publications for almost a decade, but he could not stop composing verse. Almost at once, he began the masterpiece which took him the next seventeen years to write - "In Memoriam."

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Saturday Limericks

The "Friday Poetry" group, of which I am a member, had last weeks theme as "Limericks", in honour of St Patricks's Day. The limerick is a nice form, because you can be silly and surreal, or you can actually be real but succinct, but there is always pretty well always an overtone of fun because of the form. Here are some of mine, beginning with two silly ones, for your amusement:

There once was a Princess called Sally
Who went down a very dark ally
She was frozen with fear
And exclaimed dear, oh dear
Until her courage returned and did rally

There was a nasty old smell like a cheese
Which caused all who smelt it to sneeze
But it came from ripe socks
Left behind in a box
Until it was blown away in a breeze

And here is one which takes its cue from the song made famous by "The Scaffold" - Lily the Pink. I've added a link to them playing the song afterwards. It's the famous "medicinal compound" which changes everyone who drinks it, and was at the top of the charts for ages - if I was less lazy, I'd look it up.

There was an old man from Skye
Who was creaking and ready to die
But he met Lily the Pink
Her elixir did drink
And now he's a leaping and spry

And I looked it up - Wiki said: "The song was a hit for the UK comedy group The Scaffold in December 1968, becoming the #1 single in the UK singles chart for the four weeks encompassing the Christmas holidays that year."

Now for a bit of colonialism. I've always thought there is something patronising in the master-servant relationship between Crusoe and Friday in Daniel Defoe's book. There's a cultural imperialism there which I rather dislike. So here is a limerick which carries a degree of irony.

There was once a man called Friday
Left footprints in the sand one day
Robinson Crusoe saw them
Exclaimed "what a gem!"
"He can be a butler and carry my tray"

Back to fun and simplicity. Here is a poem about a very famous cat and her owner.

There once was a small cat called Jess
Whose fur was a black and white mess
And she went in a van
With a funny old man
It was Postman Pat, as you'd guess!

If you've never come across Postman Pat, with its depiction of a gentle rural England, you have missed a treat. The original children's series (I'm not too keen on the more modern version) is charming, with Pat, a Village Post Office and its gossipy postmistress (we had one in St Brelade's Bay) and a host of rural characters sympathetically portrayed. It is a lost world, an idealised world, but a wonderful world.

For more, see

And finally, here is an obituary limerick of a rather famous UK politician who has recently died. Always something of a maverick, I rather liked him, even when I disagreed with him, although I agreed with a lot of what he said. Here's a limerick to succinctly sum up something of the man:

There once was an MP called Tony Benn
Who preferred not a sword but a pen
There were Diaries that he wrote
And he often did vote
Until he scribbled the final Amen

Friday, 21 March 2014

History of St Lawrence Church by G.R. Balleine (Part 2)

Here is part two of the forgotten piece by  G.R. Balleine  on the history of the Church, transcribed below. Balleine had a wonderful grasp of how to make historical narrative interesting, and peppers his history with interesting anecdotes.
History of St Lawrence Church by G.R. Balleine (Part 2)
Later Restorations
St Lawrence was the last. church in the Island to be restored. For three hundred years few changes were made in its internal arrangements. Those who remembered it as it was in 1890 knew what it looked like in the days of Charles II. The chancel was full of high-backed pews facing the three-decker pulpit. Where the high-altar now stands was the Colombier pew high and lifted up. In front of this was Patrimoine pew, also exalted above the common herd. These two families had their private door through the east wall. In front of the pulpit stood three great square pews each with its own stove, one for Avranche, one for La Chesnaie, one for Highlands. The police pew was just inside the north door. The choir sat in a west gallery with the clarinet players and the bassoons (there was no organ till the middle of the 19th century). They alone used the west door. The curiously broad door at the end of the north aisle was made to run in and out of the parish cannons, which were kept in the church from Elizabethan to Victorian times. The Communion table, stood near this door, and was brought out and set in front of the pulpit on the quarterly Communion Sundays.
The Acts of the Ecclesiastical Court are much the same for St Lawrence as those in other Parishes: A long series of reconciliations of lapsed Huguenots, e.g. in 1713, "Jacob Hemery and Louise Tancrel, his wife, of the Diocese of Bayeux, have voluntarily presented themselves, and confessed the sin they have committed and the scandal they have caused by abjuring the Protestant religion and taking part in the superstitions of Rome through the violence of persecution. They have humbly asked pardon of God and have renounced all the errors of the Church of Rome. They are ordered to make a like confession and renunciation in their Parish Church of St Lawrence. After which they will be received back into the peace of the Church". (The last of these penances in St Lawrence was            1811). A dismal series of public penances!
The two main sources of information about parochial affairs available in other Parishes, fail us at St Lawrence. No one seems to know what happened to the old Minute Books of the Assemblee Ecclesiastique or the Old Account Books of the Tresor. In 1789 however political feeling was running high. Chariots and Magots were fiercely struggling for the mastery. Amice Bisson the Rector, was an enthusiastic Magot. Elections till 1831 were held on Sunday in the church porch at the close of Morning Service!
In 1888 the Parish decided to restore the church. An unusual advertisement was inserted in The Builder and The Architect: "Competition. The Committee for the restoration of St Lawrence Church, Jersey, invite architects to submit designs for the restoration of the said church. A premium of £30 is offered for the best plan." But architects of repute do not enter prize competitions, at which the judges are persons with no knowledge of architecture. So this ingenious plan failed, and the committee had to engage an architect in the usual way. Their choice fell on John Evelyn Troloppe of Charing Cross, and everyone agrees that he made a wonderfully good job of it. The restoration cost £3,741.
The higgledy-piggledy high pews were all swept away; the church was refloored, and rows of uniform pews substituted. The chancel was restored to its old use with a new altar and altar-rails, choir-stalls, and chancel screen. A new pulpit, lectern, and font were presented. On May 18th, 1892, the work was completed, and the Re-opening Service was taken by Bishop Thorold of Winchester. At this service the four flags of the St Lawrence battalion of the Militia were laid up, the two oldest being those actually carried in the Battle of Jersey in 1781. In the Sanctuary they still hang, proud tokens of the Jerseyman's love of freedom and independence.
In 1963, expert examination. of the electrical system was made. Much of the wiring was found to be in a dangerous condition. The old wiring was entirely stripped, and new heating and lighting equipment installed. The fabric of the church is now preserved from deterioration by a system of high and low level heating. Daylight tubular lighting has revealed the natural pinks, blues and greys of the local granite. The removal of two large Victorian lamp-shades in the Lady Chapel, has brought to light two interesting bosses which bear the Hamptonne coats-of-arms; and floodlights now reveal the beauty of the only groined roof in the Island.
At the present time, the refurnishing of the Chapel is in progress, whereby it will be restored to its primary glory as a place, not only of beauty, but of prayer and meditation. Complete decoration of the church at a later date, has been approved by both the Ecclesiastical and Parochial Assemblies. When all that is necessary has been accomplished, the Parish Church of St Lawrence will once again take its place as one of the most beautiful of the Island's heritages.
St Lawrence has been called `the Cathedral of, Jersey', and certainly, architecturally, it is the finest of our churches. Twenty generations of Jersey men have worshipped in its walls. Its whole atmosphere, as one visitor said, `makes one feel good'. Long may it continue to be for its Parish a meeting place with God.